For the 25 athletes representing Uganda at the Tokyo Olympics, it shall be almost two years since most of them were at a proper sporting event. This must be exciting. And even if Covid protocols meant the symbolic flag off ceremony was low-key, there was still an air of enthusiasm about it.
There we were kitted in our national colors that Nike has been clever to distill into bright yellow tops and those $350-a-pair wonder shoes that are responsible for all those recently broken world records. It must have felt like however bad things had been over the last couple of months, we were getting on the other side of them now.
But before we could properly digest our cheerfulness or the news that Uganda would be fielding our first ever rower, Grace Kathleen Noble, two stories popped out to remind us that the more things change the more they stay the same.
First, in typical style we were sending a contingent that had more officials than athletes. This was closely followed by a story about weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko vanishing from his lodging after learning he would not be part of the Games anyway.
Both occurrences are so commonplace that the only thing stranger than the attempt to rationalize the huge number of officials tagging along, was the alleged charter of a plane for a high-ranking government official to go aid the Japanese police which the unenviable task of fishing Ssekitoleko out of whatever Japanese Prefecture he had blended into.
It was distracting, all this drama. And neither was it helped by the fact that by the time of writing this, the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee had not ruled out cancelling the games altogether owing to the piling number of athletes testing positive for the Coronavirus.
But, we always knew these games were going to be in the shadow of the pandemic. That is precisely why they are a year late. Still, that has not calmed the extremely nervous Japanese public, the alarmed organizers, or athletes, some of whom must be wondering if all they will do over the next 4 weeks is isolate.
Nonetheless some games like football quietly kicked on ahead of the opening ceremony. The games needed that – a reassurance that they are happening.
You see, Covid is here for a while, and we must go on with or without it. The Euros showed us that people are hungry for social interaction. Yes, it is too early to know what the public health fallout from those games shall be but at least there is comfort in knowing the Japanese society is much more orderly than the mayhem delivered by English fans in the days leading to the final. Positives everywhere I look.
In the meantime, and closer to home, we must pray that there are no more drama episodes. I say this because this is Uganda’s most ambitious team in years. Not only is it our biggest in 40 years but in Joshua Chepetgai, Jacob Kiplimo, Winnie Nanyondo and Halimah Nakyaayi, we have proven champions and competitors who are revered in their respective fields.
And I say this without referring to 2012 Gold Medalist Stephen Kiprotich or boxing, a sport that has perennially thrown up champions for us. In other words, never has Team Uganda been to the Olympics with such a potential for medals.
And so, we too need these Games to happen. We need them because of the reassuring powers of spectator sports in the face of a pandemic that just will not let go, and because this could be the best Olympics ever for Team Uganda.
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